April 23, 2014
Carlotto: ‘Milani innocent until proven guilty’
Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo President supports government’s promotion policy
In face of the upcoming vote for General César Milani as chief of the Armed Forces in a Senate debate this Wednesday, the head of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights association Estela Barnes de Carlotto marked her organization’s position by saying it would “never accept” someone who was guilty of committing crimes against humanity.
But there was a caveat in her response when she added that Milani’s “crimes must be proved before accusing him” because “all Argentine laws establish the presumption of innocence.”
Her remarks seemed to follow the line of recent government statements made last week — that Milani should be appointed since there are no formal charges against him.
With this argument, the ruling Victory Front (FpV) party will attempt to pass Milani’s promotion as Chief of the Armed Forces in spite of his controversial past.
Milani’s record had first come under suspicion by national lawmakers last July when the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) provided a report to the Upper House’s Accord Committee with new information linking the military official to forced disappearances.
Due to the surprising report made by the organization, and arguing an excess of “electoral politicking,” the government decided to delay Senate deliberations over his approval until December.
CELS and other human rights organizations objected Milani’s appointment because of suspicions with regard to his involvement in crimes against humanity during the last military dictatorship, making this decision one of the most divisive votes for the government.
Human rights organizations differed sharply in their response to Milani’s appointment, with Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo subtly supporting the official line that unless there are judicial charges against him he should be promoted.
The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo organization led by Hebe de Bonafini was even more vocally supportive, putting Milani on the front page of their monthly magazine, while Mothers of Plaza de Mayo - Founding Line have kept silent.
CELS, who initially said they had not found any information incriminating Milani, changed their minds after discovering “new information” last July. The human rights organization has been asking for his removal since.
In 1976, when Milani was a second-lieutenant, he signed a document declaring that conscript Alberto Agapito Ledo was a “deserter,” a euphemism often used by military officials to describe a forcibly disappeared person.
Milani was also accused of his involvement in Alfredo Olivera’s arrest and there was a new complaint regarding his involvement in the case of former political prisoner Oscar Plutarco Schaller.
Despite these accusations, the government has used the argument that since Milani is not under trial, his promotion should be approved because under Argentine law everyone is innocent until proven guilty — although they assure that if he were to be charged, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner would have him removed.
This view was again supported last week by Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich when he said that “if there are charges against Milani, we will react accordingly.”
But as of now, the chief-of-staff insists that since Milani was promoted “three times previously without any questioning, and since we follow the principle of innocence before proven guilty, we understand that no charges exist that could prevent his promotion.”
In addition to her comments on Milani, Carlotto defended the celebrations that the President organized in Plaza de Mayo square to order commemorate the 30th anniversary since the restoration of democracy while several stores around the country were looted.
“She dances as many presidents do to accompany her people. It’s absurd how they are using this to attack her because she has done several great things,” Carlotto said.
“We need to support democracy by recalling, creating memory and making the people come together,” the head of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo stressed.
Carlotto said that although demands by police forces were fair, the way they were conducted was wrong.
“Those who organized this type of protests weren’t the ones who most deserved to be heard,” she concluded.